Our Flag Was Still There

UC Irvine didn't ban the flag, and the students who tried to do so (before being vetoed) wanted only to keep the flag out of one small area. But that was all before the story went viral.

March 9, 2015
(U. of California at Irvine)

The news spread quickly on Friday, particularly on conservative news sites. From Breitbart, for example (accompanied by a photo of an upside-down flag, the signal of dire distress): "UC Irvine Student Gov. Bans American Flag from ‘Inclusive’ Space."

As it turns out, the flag wasn't in fact banned. And while a legislative committee of the student government tried for a ban, it would have applied only to the lobby outside student government offices. And by late Saturday afternoon, that effort had been quashed.

But in part because of rhetoric in the resolution (and people perhaps not reading the limited space covered by the resolution), the story went viral, infuriating many Irvine alumni and others, and kept plenty of Irvine administrators busy.

The resolution on the ban was passed, 6 to 4, by the Legislative Council of the student government. Among the highlights of the resolution were statements that "the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism," that the student government offices should be "inclusive," that some people don't feel included by the U.S. flag and that "freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech."

But the resolution applied only to the Associated Students' main lobby space.

While the Legislative Council did pass that resolution, it was vetoed Saturday by the student government's Executive Cabinet. The group issued a statement after its action in which it noted that the flag represents the constitutional freedoms that permit student government and others to express views on any number of issues.

"As students in an academic institution we encourage all students on campus to participate in open debate about a wide array of issues and to actively engage in academic curiosity, which lies at the backbone of a preeminent academic research institution. It is this freedom to be able to navigate and explore topics on a wide range of issues that we see at risk if we begin to engage in a particular form of regulation of free speech and its expression through symbols in any space associated with our organization," the statement said.

Via e-mail, the student who proposed to ban the flag from student government offices declined to comment, saying that he could not talk because "the media has grossly misrepresented our stance."

The university, prior to the veto vote, issued a statement condemning the resolution as "misguided." The statement added: "We hold the value of intellectual inquiry and the free and rigorous exchange of ideas as bedrock values of institutions of higher education. And yet, we are constantly reminded that those values we cherish are, in part, guaranteed by the sacrifices made and the struggles waged to secure the freedom and democracy that the flag symbolizes. UCI never takes that for granted."

Despite such statements, Irvine has been taking quite a lot of criticism on social media (some of it from its own alumni).

By Saturday, however, on Irvine's Facebook and home page, viewers could see the U.S. flag flying outside the administration building.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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